Sixers run out of gas late in loss to Bulls: Likes and dislikes
The Sixers (22-9) visited the Chicago Bulls (14-19) on Saturday. Philadelphia wanted to extend its winning streak to three games. Chicago wanted to rebound from Thursday's loss to the Pacers. Rough shooting doomed Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back, 105-92.
Before we get to the game, some notes.
The Sixers were without the services of Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Jaden Springer missed the game with an illness.
Kenneth Lofton Jr, Terq Smith, and Ricky Council IV are on two-way G League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were not available.
Nick Nurse started Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, Kelly Oubre Jr, Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
The Bulls were without the services of Zach LaVine, who has right foot inflammation.
Nikola Vucevic has a strained left adductor and was out. Lonzo Ball is recovering from surgery on his left knee and was not available.
Torrey Craig has a sprained right plantar fascia and was out.
Onuralp Bitim missed the game with a nasal fracture.
Henri Drell is on a two-way G League assignment with the Windy City Bulls and was not available.
Billy Donovan started Coby White, Alex Caruso, DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams, and Andre Drummond.
- Reed was the lone bright spot for Philadelphia in an otherwise dreary first quarter. He had four points and three steals in the frame. On the second night of a back-to-back, he gave the energy and hustle on 50-50 balls that his teammates were a little too slow and stiff to provide coming out of the gate. His best efforts came on the glass. Although he only registered two rebounds in the quarter, Reed tried his damnedest to keep the ball alive off the rim when his teammates missed - and, boy, did they miss a lot.
- I thought Nurse had a shaky night in Houston, but his first half of this game was much better. Maxey didn't get off to nearly the heater he did on Friday. But, Nurse's offense ran diverse actions both on and off the ball to get Maxey touches at different spots on the court. The defensive scheme was also quite good, despite the struggles the Sixers had in keeping the Bulls at bay.
White is the most prolific three-point shooter on the Bulls. So, when he's off the court, it made sense that Philadelphia quickly went to zone. They wanted to dare an underwhelming perimeter offense to make threes. Beyond the tactical chess game, zone is a good way to preserve legs after a stressful game in Houston on Friday.
- The Patrick Beverley experience has taught me that there are layers to defense beyond being an "individual" defender versus a "team" defender. The way I would explain the lesson is that there are such things as play "starters" and play "finishers" on defense. The difference becomes quite apparent when you contrast what happens when Beverley is in the game with what happens when he's not. The Sixers go through spells of being unable to end possessions because they commit fouls at bad times, let the ball get into spaces where it can be advanced, or don't secure the glass. A lot of those issues with finishing possessions go away when Beverley subs into the game.
He hounds the ball when his man has it, careful to let them get themselves in trouble by waiting too long to initiate or forcing things that aren't there. If they are able to get a shot off, Beverley swats it away. He's also a dangerous help defender for a mid-30s guard who has never been all that athletic, stepping into the play to disrupt when an offensive player is battling with one of Beverley's teammates. More important than all of that is the defensive glass, where Beverley manages to jar the ball loose from bigger players and tip it into his teammates' hands or outright pull it down himself.
He's one of the best defensive finishers that the Sixers have, which is why it's not a coincidence that some of their best runs start when he checks in.
- Going zone doesn't do much for you when you don't secure the defensive glass on the opposition's misses. Drummond spear-headed Chicago's efforts to bully Philadelphia on the boards, particularly when Mo Bamba was on the court. The Sixers really struggled to get stops because Chicago kept earning additional plays per possession. It wasn't just Drummond, either. Caruso ripped one out of Melton's hands to reset the position off the rim.
- As much as I liked Nurse going zone, you have to adjust when White comes back into the game. If you're too late to your spot when Chicago swings the ball his way, you're giving a good shooter a really good look. White isn't the level of player you adjust your whole scheme for, though. Philadelphia could've just zoned out one side of the floor and adjusted to man on whichever side White was on. Missed opportunity to get creative on defense.
- I think the thirst for a backup center over the years has likely inflated the way Reed is viewed by the Philadelphia faithful. He's an adequate backup big; I think saying he's anything more or less is probably dishonest. The more playing time he gets, the more you see his rough spots. For example, it's difficult to think of a player with his athleticism and size who has worse feel for the offensive end of the floor. Defenses put two bodies in his line of sight and it turns into absolute chaos at the rim. Catching the ball is also an adventure. Of course, those warts show through if he's able to play extended minutes without foul trouble.
I almost wonder if some of the offensive mistakes would go away if he functioned more as a popper and less as a roller. Just remove the chaos and the need to make decisions. Considering Reed is slowly improving as a perimeter shooter, it isn't as crazy an idea as it once might've seemed.
- Real shameful night for the officiating crew. Jacyn Goble and CJ Washington need their eyes checked, or transplanted.
The Sixers (22-10) will host the Bulls (15-19) on Tuesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m., Eastern time. You can catch the game on NBA TV.
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